Deconstruction's philosopher dies

L. Bird pkeets at
Sat Oct 9 12:40:40 CDT 2004

Maybe not quite the same as autodestruction, but related.

PARIS (AFP) - Jacques Derrida, one of France's best-known philosophers and 
the founder of the deconstructionist school, has died of cancer at the age 
of 74, his entourage said.

He had been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas in 2003.

Derrida's prolific writings, criticised by some as obscure and nihilist, 
argue that in literature -- but also in fields such as art, music, 
architecture -- there are multiple meanings not necessarily intended or even 
understood by the creator of the work.

"To 'deconstruct' is to take an idea, institution or value and understand 
its mechanisms by removing the cement that makes it up," one critic has 

Born in Algeria in 1930 Derrida went to France's celebrated Ecole Normale 
Superieur in 1952, then became an assistant professor at Harvard in the 
United States and the Sorbonne in Paris.

Throughout his life he taught both in France and in the United States.

Among the influences on his thought were the German philosopher Martin 
Heidegger and the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

"(Deconstruction) is in the first instance a philosophical theory and a 
theory directed towards the (re)reading of philosophical writings," 
according to John Lye of Brock University in Ontario, Canada.

"Its impact on literature... is based in part on the fact that 
deconstruction sees all writing as a complex historical, cultural process 
rooted in the relations of texts to each other and in the institutions and 
conventions of writing," said Brock.

Deconstructivism is also known for the "intensity of its sense that human 
knowledge is not as controllable or as cogent as Western thought would have 
it and that language operates in subtle and often contradictory ways, so 
that certainty will always elude us."

Derrida was not always appreciated by fellow academics. When Britain's 
Cambridge University planned to award him an honorary degree in 1992 many 
staff protested and his writings were denounced as "absurd doctrines that 
deny the distinction between reality and fiction."

In the end his degree was approved by 336 votes to 204.

In 1981 the Czech authorities put him in prison for several days because of 
his public backing for the intellectuals who had published Charter 77, 
calling for greater freedom.

Married to a psychoanalyst, he was a grandfather. He had a child with 
Sylviane Agacinski, now married to former socialist leader Lionel Jospin, of 
whom he was a political ally during the 1995 presidential election.

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